Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Reflecting on the future

ASCL conference

In March, ASCL's annual conference sparked debate about how best to prepare young people to tackle the massive challenges facing them in the next 20 years - and how to hold schools and colleges accountable for it.

There were stark and challenging messages emerging from ASCL's annual conference on 13-15 March - which drew a record number of delegates to Birmingham - but plenty of opportunities for celebration as well.

In one of the keynote addresses, Professor Michael Barber set the scene starkly, laying out the scale of the challenges facing the next generation and arguing that immediate and far-reaching action is needed to tackle issues of global warming and massive population growth.

Professor Dylan William argued that this will only be possible by improving the quality of teaching of those currently in the workforce - recruiting good people to the profession is important but will not disseminate excellent teaching quickly or widely enough.

Turning to the curriculum, Dr Carol Craig warned that the current emphasis on teaching social and emotional skills is creating a generation of children who, rather than facing up to global issues, believe it is their own happiness and self-satisfaction which matters most.

Secretary of State Ed Balls clearly stated his two priorities for the education system and how he proposed to work with school and college leaders to achieve them. He also discussed the mechanisms for holding schools and colleges accountable, including proposals for a school report card, which was the subject of a debate led by Professor Tim Brighouse and General Secretary John Dunford, with many contributions from delegates on the floor.

The seminar sessions, throughout Friday and Saturday, gave delegates the chance to share good practice and hear from experts on a vast range of topics, from the new Ofsted framework to extended schools to online reporting.

As one delegate said: "I thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend - it gave me a welcome opportunity to reflect and I have come away re-invigorated, encouraged and enthused."

Michael Barber

on his equation for preparing young people to tackle the challenges of the 21st century:

Well-educated = E(K+T+L)

"K in this equation is for knowledge. There has been some debate about whether knowledge is important in this rapidly changing world. Frankly this is absurd...

"Children and young people also need to learn how to acquire ever more knowledge, to connect apparently unconnected pieces of knowledge and indeed perhaps to create it. This is why after the K in the equation there is a T. It stands for thinking or thought...

"However, even knowledge plus thought does not equal power. There is something else more elusive still, that makes all the difference. How many times have you seen two people leaving a meeting and one of them says about the decision just made, 'I didn't agree with that.' 'Why didn't you say so?' asks the other. 'I didn't think it was the right time.' What they mean is that they didn't have the confidence to contribute at the point of decision. They might have had the knowledge and done the thinking but they had no influence because they missed their moment. What they lack when it mattered was the L in this equation - leadership...

"So why is the E on the outside of the bracket? Because it is possible to combine K+T+L and therefore have power, but use it for deeply evil purposes. We saw plenty of bloody examples in the 20th century. So the E stands for ethical underpinning."

Michael Barber is a partner at McKinsey & Company


Ed Balls

secretary of state, on Children's Trusts:

"I said here last year that I didn't want teachers to be police officers, social workers or housing officers or parents. But we must get you the support you need. That's why we've introduced new legislation to strengthen Children's Trusts in every area.

"John Dunford regularly tells me that Children's Trusts will only work if they provide a proper system of intelligent accountability and a relentless focus on commissioning the support that schools and colleges need to help all young people succeed. And that's exactly what I want them to do.

"They're not about making you do more or placing an additional burden on you. They're about giving you a seat at the table. My plea to you is not to turn your backs on that seat. It's to go in there bang your fists on the table and make yourselves heard."


Jacques Szemalikowski

head of Hampstead School, London, in the question and answer session with Ed Balls:

"Being a head is the best job in the world. It's a privilege to shape the future. Nevertheless many aspiring heads will have been alarmed at last weekend's headlines about the 150 ASCL colleagues being sacked in the last year, and the five fold increase this represents.

"No one defends genuinely poor performance but some successful and experienced heads are being given a very short time to turn a school round - treated like Scolari without the pay-off. This short term attitude is crazy, won't fix anything, squanders massive experience and will worsen the impending headteacher shortage. How can you help?"


Paul Topping

head of secondary phase, Hadley Learning Academy, Telford, in the question and answer session with Ed Balls:

"Knowing that the secretary of state is an ardent Norwich City fan - does he still believe that league tables are fair and bring out the best in teams of people, particularly in light of the DCSF consultations on 21st century schools and the school report card, which point to the inadequacy of such tables in providing balanced and easily accessible information to parents?"


Tim Brighouse

in the debate on school report cards:

"I am in favour of a balanced scorecard, because I think the existing system is too simple, is too easily understood, and is very, very misleading. We've reached a position where accountability is incredibly strong and trust is incredibly weak.

"Whatever we do over the next year or two or three, we ought to be trying to build the trust towards schools. I think that a move towards a balanced scorecard will help that, the sense that it is a dislocation of existing arrangements and a chance for us to get in and win on some of the issues. So I'm in favour of a balanced scorecard on certain conditions...

"I'm sure they're going to abolish contextual value-added data so it's terribly important that the balanced scorecard allows for context. I personally would be in favour of assessing not only the results of kids who start with us in year 7 and finish in year 11, but also of assessing other young people (who transfer in other years), and I would give them a bonus. Instead of discounting them, I would say: let's assume their attainment when they arrive is below what one would regard as the average attainment - because that is the likelihood, with greater mobility. I would then allow the achievement at 16 to be based on an assumption of a lower starting point, because you often don't know what that starting point is.

"I say this because I don't want schools to have perverse incentives. I don't want schools to say 'I only need to focus on this particular group', which is what we've got at the moment."

Tim Brighouse is CPD champion for the Training and Development Agency


Dylan Wiliam

on the need to improve the quality of teaching:

"I want to quantify this debate for you. If you are lucky enough to be taught by the best teachers for a group of 50, you will learn in six months what kids in the average classroom are going to learn in a year and if you're unlucky enough to be taught by the worst teacher in that group of 50, that same learning will take you two years. So there's a four-fold difference in the speed of learning from the most effective to the least effective teachers..."

"We have to improve existing teachers. This is a very difficult conversation to have, because I am saying that every teacher in this country is not good enough - not because they're not good enough but because they can be better. My role model here is Tiger Woods who, in 2001 won the master's championship, and immediately changed his swing because he wasn't happy. The best golfer on the planet - and the first thing he does is say 'I need to be even better...'

"Teaching is too complex to be mastered. None of us is ever as successful as we would want to be as teachers. You show me a teacher who thinks they're doing a good job and I will show you a teacher with low expectations of those students."

Dylan Wiliam is professor of educational assessment at the Institute of Education, University of London

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